When describing Cascadia, there still remains a little bit of confusion, especially when working to explain it to others who may be new to the concept, or have never heard of it before. Contributing to this confusion, several different terms are often thrown around; social movement, individual and community empowerment, dedicated to celebrating the things that help make our region distinct. Well, what exactly do these mean? Are we a political movement? A solely environmental one? Or maybe just a kickback of a newly emerging regional soccer rivalry?
Well the short answer is: “No, kind of, sort of and maybe, yes, and everything in between.”
To help clarify, Cascadia is an emerging regional identity that helps to reframe and challenge many commonly assumed principles in a positive, respectful and excitingly refreshing way. It is a way for us to strengthen ideas and issues that help represent the Cascadia bioregion, which are often interconnected, interdependent and mutually beneficial, that only together create the true meaning of Cascadia, and celebrating the ways that we are already very distinct from surrounding areas. Within this, we often talk about the way Cascadia is already unique:
- Bio-region: defined by the watersheds of the Cascade mountains and from the beginning of the Columbia River Basin.
- Geography: from the renaming of the Puget Sound and Georgia Strait to the Salish Sea in 2010, or the Cascadia ‘Megaregion’ for example – “where boundaries begin to blur, creating a new scale of geography”.
- Cooperative Governance and Regional Planning: especially in areas such as high speed rail, environmental policy, local and renewable energy, disaster preparedness and response, dynamic and transparent governance, and regional growth planning.
- Bio-Diversity: native flora, fauna, fungi and sea dwellers indigenous only to the Pacific Northwest.
- Geology: the only region in the world to have our own geologic, tectonic plate ‘the Cascadia subduction zone’ – Cascadia may well become independent of the US and Canada much sooner than anyone expected when it ‘splits off’ in a more literal sense.
- History: long united into the Salish coastal tribes before European contact, Cascadia has often retained a sense of self-identity and definition, from Thomas Jefferson to the Oregon Territories, and even briefly as its own republic during a two year period where an independent provisional government was established.
- Culture: Cascadian black metal, news articles, indigenous cultures of the Northwest and interior, Cascadia Dark Ales, poetry gatherings, artwork and ceramic exhibitions, bioregional and academic conferences, and of course regional rivalries like the Cascadia Cup!
- Linguistic Characteristics: beginning with the Salish Chinook Jargon trade language, to our own unique patterns of speech today.
- Regional Economy: one of the world’s top 20 – which continues to become increasingly interdependent, locally focused and sustainable.
We are not a political movement because in many respects, we as Cascadians already form a nation.
Not in the sense that we have a military, or rigidly defined borders that would be defended to the death. No, Cascadia is a nation in the sense that it is a gathering of individuals and communities who reflect similar desires and needs, a unique cultural identity, and, most importantly, a common future. In the blink of history, the phenomenon of nationalism is transforming rapidly, as we continually redefine our relationships with the individual, community and our society. And we are transforming with it.
That is to say, while at the moment we are governed by the same administrative structures as the rest of the United States and Canada, we possess distinct cultural elements – language, literature, affiliations, aspirations – and an awareness of ourselves as members of a community which extends throughout our region, rendering many political boundaries obsolete and irrelevant. The primary aspects of this nationalism which apply to us within the Pacific Northwest are ones which have existed, and continue to exist in increasingly visible ways, across the border between the U.S. and Canadian states.
Nations, even as large as the United States and Canada, are nothing more than imagined communities. These two countries represent almost a half a billion people, and the point at which we can easily identify with the common needs and cultures of cities more than 3000 miles away are quickly fraying as new technological, political and economic realities turn our attentions and focus towards something more identifiable – the Cascadian bioregion. This idea of common bonds and regional character – are transmitted through media, newsprint, education, sports, and, at its root – our individual communications on an interpersonal level. Even at its largest scale, in the words of Benedict Anderson, the nation “is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them – yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” – defined not by their physical interactions but instead by these perceived connections, and the style in which they are imagined.
The Pacific Northwest is unique – in North America, and in the world abroad. We are connected in ways that challenge traditional modes of governance, aspiring to better ways of conceiving of community, locality, geography, and ecology. Cascadia already is an imagined community. One of the primary goals of the Cascadian Independence Project is to spread this idea – that is, to raise awareness of the power through the self-conscious formation and claiming of the elements which we already know make this region distinct, and through the reinforcement of our communal imagination of a Cascadian society.
By acting, then, to facilitate and support our local communities in a variety of ways – sustainability, resiliency, decentralization, empowerment, local autonomy, democracy, bio-regionalism and a fiercely independent spirit – and to help form the dialogues that happen within them and the images which spread through them, we help shape our communities and the realities in which we live. Within this, we affect our character and the the course of any governmental action and influence on the imaginary from which any change can emerge.
We can be limited only by the constraints of what we dare imagine.
This is Cascadia, and we are Cascadian.
By Brandon Letsinger and Michael Hodges